Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 documentary Crumb is a fascinating portrait of American artist R. (Robert) Crumb, who rose to fame in the late ’60s in the underground comix scene. His work is frequently filled with unabashed revelations about his sexual desires that some understandably find misogynistic, and this is dealt with through interviews in the film. Shown conducting a lecture, Robert reveals he is best known for the “Keep on Truckin'” comic, the album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, and the character Fritz the Cat, which Ralph Bakshi adapted into a film. He is frustrated by all of them for different reasons.
Aside from his work, the film reveals Robert’s personal life as well. Not only do we meet his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and their child, Sophie, but also more importantly in terms of understanding him, his brothers Charles and Maxon, both artists as well but nowhere near the success Robert has had. Charles helped usher Robert towards drawing; however, the film finds him still living with their mother and unable to leave the house. Charles’ art was fascinating but it, along with the antisocial behavior on display and his collections, hinted at a suffering of a disorder along the lines of Asperger syndrome.
Zwigoff, who was a friend of Robert’s before the film began and likely gained access because of that, follows him around for an unspecified period of time and viewers witness how the artist spends his days and earns a living. Crumb concludes as Robert and his immediate family pack up and move to France.
The video is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 taken from a 16 mm interpositive. The colors are well rendered as they present different levels of brightness. A Haight Street comic book shop is particularly vibrant. There is good contrast on display best exemplified in shots of the black and white drawings of the Crumbs’ work. The audio is an uncompressed monaural track. The voices are clear and understandable and also well balanced with the music.
The supplemental features include two commentary tracks: one recorded by Zwigoff in April 2010 and another with Zwigoff and film critic Roger Ebert from 2006. The latter makes for more interesting listen as Ebert draws information through questions a viewer would have. Some anecdotes get repeated. For those who wanted more, there are 52 minutes of unrestored footage that didn’t make the cut. Divided by subject into 14 chapters, Zwigoff offers commentary for a few. There is also a still gallery; a 28-page booklet that contains an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum; a story by Robert entitled “The Chinese Curse”; and artwork by and photos of the Crumb family. Lastly, there is a replica of Charles’ “Famous Artists Talent Test”.
Crumb is very engaging but Robert’s work may turn off viewers to the point that they have no interest in learning about the man behind it. Criterion does a very good job bringing the project to high definition. If you want this Blu-ray, you should give in to your desires.